An Im­promptu Farewell

Sud­den and un­fore­seen changes at the se­nior diplo­matic level af­fect re­la­tion­ships that de­mand sta­bil­ity and can have se­vere reper­cus­sions for the larger U.S strat­egy in the Af-pak re­gion.

Southasia - - Contents - By Arsla Jawaid

The U.S takes a strong blow as two of its most im­por­tant am­bas­sadors re­sign.

Apart from suf­fer­ing a tense and com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan and fac­ing an un­cer­tain troop with­drawal strat­egy in Afghanistan, the United States re­cently re­ceived a big­ger blow, this time from two of its own.

U.S Am­bas­sador in Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker and U.S Am­bas­sador in Pak­istan, Cameron Munter (in­ci­den­tally two of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant am­bas­sadors) have both pre-ma­turely re­signed from their posts. Crocker’s de­par­ture comes at a time when the U.S is en­ter­ing a new era of en­gage­ment with Afghanistan. Though NATO troop with­drawal is sched­uled for 2014, the next two years will be paramount in de­ter­min­ing the fate of Afghanistan, the pos­si­bil­ity of a smooth tran­si­tion and the coun­try’s abil­ity to sus­tain it­self af­ter in­ter­na­tional forces de­part. Munter’s de­par­ture on the other hand, comes as the U.S-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship plunges into a deeper cri­sis which frankly, will con­tinue to free-fall whether there is an am­bas­sador or not.

NATO forces in Afghanistan face a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion as they gear up to with­draw com­bat forces and train Afghan per­son­nel to take the reins. Apart from try­ing to achieve the un­achiev­able, the U.S has to en­sure that Afghanistan is ready to not only take charge of its se­cu­rity but also its gov­er­nance. How the U.S ends the “un­winnable war” will largely de­ter­mine its long-term en­gage­ment with the re­gion and quell the slew of in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism it cur­rently faces. A NATO with­drawal it­self will be a com­pli­cated event but the years leading up to it will be equally try­ing and test­ing, need­ing the ex­per­tise of the men best suited for the job.

Former am­bas­sador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker had warned about the risks of a U.S oc­cu­pa­tion and later tried to pur­sue a new mil­i­tary and diplo­matic strat­egy to sal­vage a war-torn Iraq. Shortly af­ter re-open­ing the em­bassy in Kabul, Crocker was named Am­bas­sador to Pak­istan. Hav­ing served the usual three-year term, he re­signed. How­ever, as events would play out, Crocker ac­cepted the post of Am­bas­sador to Afghanistan at the be­hest of Pres­i­dent Obama and be­gan his ser­vices in July 2011. Af­ter only 10 months, Crocker has sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion and will most likely be leav­ing the bur­den of duty on his deputy, James Cun­ning­ham.

Afghanistan is of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance be­cause the U.S has al­ready es­tab­lished a steady foot­print and is now plan­ning an exit strat­egy. Hav­ing al­ready cre­ated a pres­ence in the coun­try and cur­rently in the process of con­duct­ing di­a­logue with var­i­ous power cen­ters, the is­sue at the fore­front is how the U.S will train forces and main­tain a sta­ble tran­si­tion of power as it pre­pares to with­draw. Apart from a mil­i­tary strat­egy, it is im­per­a­tive to dis­play Amer­i­can long-term com­mit­ment to re­main­ing en­gaged with Af-

ghanistan, mark­ing a break from its pre­vi­ous with­drawal that it is adamant to avoid like the plague. This can only oc­cur through well-planned diplo­macy that ab­so­lutely must en­gage with civil so­ci­ety and in­clude them in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

The game in Pak­istan is, how­ever, com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Whereas in Afghanistan an endgame is be­ing dis­cussed, the game has not even re­ally be­gun in Pak­istan as yet. It is in essence, a show of pep­pered events that con­trib­ute to a vac­il­lat­ing re­la­tion­ship.

Un­doubt­edly, the peo­ple of Pak­istan have suf­fered enor­mously what with un­ac­counted for drone at­tacks, the in­fa­mous Raymond Davis de­ba­cle and the May 02 (2011) Ab­bot­tabad raid that most Pak­ista­nis re­main crit­i­cal of. Though the episode prompted the peo­ple to ques­tion their army and hold their gov­ern­ment ac­count­able, a se­vere en­croach­ment of Pak­istan’s sovereignty re­mains a sen­si­tive is­sue. If the sit­u­a­tion wasn’t bad al­ready, it was made worse when the ‘ac­ci­den­tal’ killing of 24 Pak­istani troops at the Salala check­post in Novem­ber 2011 lac­er­ated the re­la­tion­ship even fur­ther, prompt­ing Pak­istan to take se­ri­ous ac­tion and block NATO sup­plies to Afghanistan. The ‘snub­bing’ it re­ceived at the NATO Sum­mit in Chicago and the in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism meted out to Pak­istan af­ter it stamped a 33 year jail term on Dr. Shakil Afridi, the doc­tor who aided the CIA in con­firm­ing Osama Bin Laden’s pres­ence at the house in Ab­bot­tabad, is detri­men­tal to a re­la­tion­ship al­ready on the rocks.

It is against this back­drop that Wash­ing­ton’s man on the diplo­matic front­line, Cameron Munter, has de­cided to pre­ma­turely and qui­etly, quit his job, just 18 months into it. Though ru­mors cir­cu­late that Munter was at odds with the of­fi­cial Amer­i­can han­dling of events in Pak­istan, State Depart­ment spokesper­son, Mark Toner, down­played the sit­u­a­tion say­ing, “This is at the con­clu­sion of his ten­ure at the end of two years, which is a per­fectly nor­mal pe­riod for an am­bas­sador to Pak­istan.”

Munter as­sumed the role at a time when anti-Amer­i­can­ism was ram­pant in Pak­istan and there was noth­ing more im­por­tant than cor­rect­ing Amer­ica’s im­age in or­der to fur­ther the di­a­logue. It seemed, how­ever, that ground re­al­i­ties were not be­ing con­veyed to the U.S (or that it sim­ply had se­lec­tive hear­ing) be­cause as the sit­u­a­tion grew graver, Munter’s work be­came more dif­fi­cult. Though mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion re­mains dis­mal, in­sen­si­tive diplo­macy and harsh po­lit­i­cal rhetoric are far more dam­ag­ing to pub­lic per­cep­tion than any­thing else. While the U.S is Pak­istan’s largest aid donor, money can’t buy love and the strat­egy of “win­ning hearts and minds” can­not be con­ducted solely through mil­i­tary and de­vel­op­ment aid but rather re­quires a com­mit­ted part­ner­ship based on mu­tual trust and re­spect. Un­for­tu­nately, both Pak­istan and the U.S are se­verely lack­ing on this front.

The sud­den de­par­ture of two se­nior level diplo­mats from the re­gion will cer­tainly leave a dent in what are eas­ily the most com­pli­cated bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships for the U.S and two that de­mand an in­creas­ing level of at­ten- tion, sta­bil­ity and un­der­stand­ing. It is im­per­a­tive that all three coun­tries ded­i­cate ef­forts to re­build­ing trust be­fore it is too late. As Afghanistan pre­pares to stand on its own feet, Pak­istan’s co­op­er­a­tion will be in­sur­mount­able and in­dis­pens­able to the re­gion as well as the U.S as it pre­pares to plan a re­spon­si­ble exit. Closer (and cleaner) ties with the U.S are in the long-term in­ter­ests of Af­Pak and must ex­tend be­yond is­sues of mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion.

If a con­certed ef­fort is to be made then it must be re­mem­bered that all coun­tries will not agree on most is­sues but work­ing through them as com­mit­ted and equal part­ners is es­sen­tial. In this in­stance then, the job of a US Am­bas­sador is paramount in de­ter­min­ing pub­lic opin­ion and rec­om­mend­ing the best way to en­gage in pub­lic diplo­macy. A rapid change in se­nior front­line per­son­nel is not healthy and is in fact detri­men­tal to an al­ready pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion.

For a re­la­tion­ship that is of­ten vic­tim to the va­garies of pol­i­tics, per­haps some sta­bil­ity is in or­der. Arsla Jawaid is As­sis­tant Edi­tor at SouthA­sia. A Bos­ton Univer­sity grad­u­ate, she holds a Bach­e­lors de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, with a fo­cus on for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity stud­ies.

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